The Tories are desperately trying to hide the growing cost of living crisis behind their drive to war in Ukraine. Ministers spent this weekend briefing journalists that the surge in bills and prices in Britain was driven by “insecurity in Europe”.
The war is indeed raising prices, but food and fuel costs were already rocketing long before the war—and the Tories are determined to do nothing about them. Instead, with national insurance and council tax hikes on the way, workers’ pockets are set to take a direct hit from Tory policies. Household bills are set to rise at least 14 times faster than wages this year, new research suggests.
The TUC union federation said its analysis showed that gas and electricity bills are on course to increase by 54 percent when the price cap set by Ofgem changes in April. But average weekly wages will go up by 3.75 percent.
That’s less than half the rate of inflation using the more accurate RPI measure. Another set of figures from Aurora Energy Research, a consultancy, says British households face a £38 billion hit to their budgets from an expected doubling in electricity and gas bills.
The cost of heating and lighting homes in 2022-23 will be the equivalent of a 6p rise in the basic rate of income tax. It will mean an epidemic of poverty. And according to economists at Investec and Goldman Sachs, most of Britain’s 28.5 million households are due to see their annual energy bills exceed £3,000 after the next rise in October.
The Tories have offered only the most meagre measures in response to the cost of living crisis. Multi-millionaire chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised a compulsory £200 loan to households to be issued in October. It will then have to be repaid over the subsequent four years. That won’t reduce by a penny the amount people are asked to pay in total. There will also be a £150 rebate on council tax bills for those in property bands A to D. But many renters won’t see a penny of that while they are still expected to pay outrageous amounts for energy.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “The government must do far more to help workers with crippling energy costs. That means imposing a windfall tax on oil and gas profits and using the money raised to give hard-pressed families energy grants, not loans.”
But the government has no intention of helping out ordinary people or boosting incomes. When Sunak unveils his spring statement on 23 March, the priority will be money for war, not the working class. There will undoubtedly be some moves designed to camouflage the central policy, but there will be no real shift to freeze fuel bills, control prices, or take the industry back from privatised firms.
The only effective reply will be class struggle. O’Grady recently visited the Wincanton B&Q workers in Worksop who fought an 11-week strike and eventually won a bigger pay rise than they had been offered.
Yet union leaders are not focused on this sort of resistance or delivering solidarity for it. Strikes can get results—this is the path that has to be followed. It means a big shift by the unions from bemoaning the Tory failures towards encouraging and building struggle.
Reports from disputes around Britain
Security services were involved
Move will increase police racism
Johnson could enrage all sides